The Park School history department considers the ultimate goal of historical study at the secondary level to be the formation of those attitudes and skills that enable students to understand the world around them so that they can constructively participate in a democratic society.

We hope to graduate young people who recognize the non-objective nature of information and who take the time to seek out and compare alternative contentions in arriving logically at personal positions concerning the key issues of their world.

The emphasis in course organization is generally on historical problems, and assignments emphasize a discriminating analysis of both primary sources and secondary interpretations. We employ a variety of readings and teaching techniques to stimulate and develop effective self-expression, both written and oral. Basic historical research skills are taught in required courses, culminating in a major research paper each year.

Three years of history are required for graduation; additionally, most students take at least one elective course in history.

Independent Studies can be arranged in the history department for semester credit; every year a small number of students—usually juniors and seniors—seek this opportunity to work independently on a subject of their interest.


History 9: Foundations of Modern America
Grade 9
In 9th Grade history, students will cover the period of American history starting with case studies of indigenous groups from North America, West and West Central Africa and Europe pre-contact, and spanning to the early twentieth century. While the class will move chronologically through events, the aim is not a simple mastery of events, but rather a developed understanding of groups and individuals involved in shaping the United States. A research paper is required. 

To that end, a number of questions are central to this course….How has the United States of America been constructed, negotiated, and reconstructed over time? Who has constructed it and reconstructed it? For what purposes was it constructed? How have people participated in constructing the United States of America? How have race, gender, class, and cultural values shaped the ways in which people participated in that process of construction? What roles have history and storytelling played in shaping the ways in which the United States has been constructed?

History 10: Modern World 1
Grade 10
Beginning in the 1400s, a sizable portion of humanity broke with the past to begin stitching together a new world. Societies across the globe encountered one another for the first time, developed novel intellectual and economic systems, forged new ideas about identity, and organized politically as they never had before. This year-long course examines the forces that brought about those interactions. It traces their role in the creation of the new world order that emerged by the beginning of the twentieth century, which is where Modern World 2 begins. Topics include global economic integration; colonialism and imperialism; intellectual, political, and industrial revolutions. One central theme students will consider throughout is the role these forces played in shaping diverse peoples’ ideas about what “modernity” is and what it meant to “modernize.” A research paper is required, building on the skills learned in 9th Grade. 

History 11: Modern World 2
Grade 11 • Required
In this course, students analyze and explore the competing political philosophies and global trends that defined the turbulent period after WWI: nationalism, liberalism, imperialism, communism, fascism, independence movements, and decolonization. One central theme to be considered throughout is the role these forces played in changing assumptions in different parts of the world about social and political hierarchy. A research paper, building on skills learned in the 9th and 10th Grades, is required. 

A History of Belief: Exploring World Religions
Grades: 10-12

This course will explore major world religions from both historical and philosophical perspectives. Students will consider and compare the complex answers given by various belief systems to life’s most fundamental questions. What is true? What gives life meaning? How should I live? And how do we know? 

The class will also explore the ways in which each religion is a product of its history. How did it answer the specific needs of the place and time in which it emerged? How did it interact with belief systems? How and why did it change over time? 

The specific religions examined will be influenced by the interests of the group, but will likely include a balance of nature-based, eastern, and Judaeo-Christian belief systems. 

Art History: Recurring Themes
Grades: 10-12

More than ever before, we live in a world of man-made appearance, and whether we are conscious of it or not, what we see affects us. In this course, students will develop visual literacy and learn to recognize how various cultures have expressed and perpetuated many of their most deeply held values through art and architecture. The ultimate question is this: how does art (from painting and architecture to advertising and fashion) influence our own sense of reality and shape our own desires? To approach this question in a manageable way, students will examine three or four major themes that recur throughout art history, such as Sacred Space, The Body, Power & Protest, Gender & Identity, and The Environment. Students will study a broad range of works, comparing the ways artists from different time periods and cultures have responded to each theme. They will discuss, read and write about art, and plan to take a field trip or two to see some art in person. (Readings will be provided in class.) This course can be taken for arts or history credit.

History of Baltimore
Grades: 10-12

In this course, students will aim to investigate their home towns from the colonial period to present. They will look from different points of view, and through different lenses: economic, religious, social, cultural, racial, and political. Topics for study include industrialization and deindustrialization, stability and instability, migration and immigration, redlining, and white flight. The central text for the course is Antero Pietila’s Not In My Neighborhood, supplemented by several collections of shorter writings. The class will endeavor on some driving/walking tours of the city (COVID restrictions permitting), and will have the chance to talk with several experts on particular topics. 

Modern Africa
Grades: 10-12

“The darkest thing about Africa has always been our ignorance of it.” —George Kimble “Out of Africa, always something new.” —Pliny the Elder Imagined by the rest of the world as either a place of exotica and the destination for expensive safari vacations, or as the background to natural disasters and political chaos, the nations of Africa comprise amazing stories of political and cultural dynamism. In this course, students will explore modern Africa’s history, from independence in the mid-twentieth century to the present. They will read some of the seminal literature that has come out of modern Africa and view the cinema of some of Africa’s contemporary filmmakers. 

Revolution and Reform in Twentieth-Century Latin America
Grades: 10-12

Emerging from a century of independence wars and nation-building, much of Latin America entered the twentieth century in a state of flux: what did it mean to be “Latin American,” or to identify within a Latin American nation? How did the people of these nations, or those who had gained control in the absence of colonial rule, envision their futures? And by what means should they realize those goals? Did the solution lie in tearing down old regimes through revolution? Or did it lie in gradual reform of existing structures? 

This course will examine the paths that many of these countries followed as increasing numbers of people assumed participatory roles in promoting political, social, and economic change. Using a comparative lens, students will look at the unique conditions that gave rise to these different movements, the goals and tactics of their leaders, and their varying degrees of success. As they study the situations “on-the-ground,” they will also consider the cultural ramifications of such reforms and revolutions in an attempt to understand how these national projects reinforced — or challenged — a shared “Latin American” identity.

The Civil Rights Movement
Grades: 10-12

The passings of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, known as the Civil War Amendments, were designed to provide equality for recently emancipated slaves. However, the political rights “granted” by Southern States almost immediately became “Black Codes” and then “Jim Crow Laws.” In spite of Reconstruction’s promises, this new order meant to keep African Americans “in their place” and treat them as second-class citizens. Since that time, various individuals — African American, Native American and Mexican (Hispanic) American — have fought to have the natural rights granted by the Constitution to all citizens of the United States. In this course, students will explore the long history of their activism from its roots in the colonial period to the present while building a good understanding of the journey. 

The Vietnam Wars
Grades: 10-12

The struggle for Vietnam occupies a central place in the history of the 20th century. How did it happen? Why were the Vietnamese at war with each other? Why did France, China, and the US involve themselves? Why did so many people outside of Vietnam care? Why did it drag on for so many decades? Why does it continue to loom so large in American memory and foreign policy today? This seminar-style course draws on a rich variety of sources and perspectives to explore these questions. Specific topics include: the impact of French colonialism on traditional Vietnamese society; the role of World War II in the rise of nationalism and communism in Vietnam; the motives, stages, and strategies of American intervention in Vietnam; the experiences of the Vietnamese; the rise of the anti-war movement in the US; and the lessons and legacies of the conflict for both Vietnam and the United States. 

American Conservatism from Truman to Trump
Grades: 10-12

What is “Conservatism”? Is it a political ideology that promotes small government and individual responsibility? Do conservatives advocate defense of tradition? Do they believe that the government should play no role in the private lives of individuals? Do they believe in essential human dignity? Mankind’s spiritual nature? The answers to all of these questions are, well, complex and confusing. Beginning with the end of the Second World War, this course will explore the development of conservative ideology and politics in the United States. We will read some of the seminal literature on conservatism, such as Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative, and Garry Wills’ The Convenient State. The objective of the course is not to promote a specific political stance, but to approach the terms “liberal” and “conservative” with a more layered and multi-dimensional understanding than is too often the case. 

Art History: Questioning the Role of Art in Society
Grades: 10-12

What is art? What is it for? Who controls it? Who gets to decide what art is? We often think of the existence of art as self-evident and transparent, but, in fact, it is the product of a host of assumptions made by those who create it, use it, or buy it. This class will blend history, art history, and anthropology to examine the changing ways in which societies have used and imagined art, from prehistoric painters to 21st century investors in NFTs, over the course of human history. Rather than a chronological survey of works of art in and of themselves, this is a course about the idea of art and artists. As such, the approach will be comparative and thematic. Specific course topics and case studies will be driven by student interest, but they may revolve around questions like: Who owns the art of the past? Must an artist starve? Do patrons create art? Why does the value of a work of art change if our understanding of the work’s creation changes? Is there a difference between a Grecian urn and an IKEA pitcher? What happens to an object made in one context when it is taken into another context? Can a body ever be art? Does art that memorializes the past have a value separate from the event it memorializes? 

Early West African Perspectives
Grades: 10-12
This course will examine the rise of kingdoms and cultures in West Africa from early humanity to the first encounters with European invaders. Drawing upon a rich variety of sources — including written accounts, oral tradition, material culture, and historical fiction — it will explore power and cultural legacies from insider lenses. While highlighting the splendor and greatness of these often-overlooked societies and empires, the course will also necessitate ongoing conversations about who, historically, has controlled African narratives and how we, as outsider-historians, can center West African voices as we endeavor to understand these histories. Rather than situating colonization as an inevitable future, students will let their sources speak for themselves as they become acquainted with the wealth, power, and the diversity of cultures interacting in this region during the “pre-colonial” period. Topics will include: the Bantu migration; the west African iron age; Mali, Ghana, and Songhai Empires; the Bambara states; Islamic influence on the region; and the nature of early west African encounters with Europeans at the dawn of the Atlantic Age. 

From Out of the Margins: Women in History
Grades: 10-12

Women have been instrumental throughout history; however, they have often been obscured in historical records. Women of color even more so. In this course, students will attempt to recover women’s places in American history, from pre-contact Indigenous societies to the present day. They will explore “unknown” sheroes as well those in the public sphere. Everyone must know their stories. The class will give special consideration to women from minority groups who are frequently overlooked even in histories of women and feminism. 

Plagues and Peoples in World History
Grades: 10-12

This course explores some of the most notable epidemics in world history from the Black Death in the Middle Ages to the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. Humanity and epidemic disease have shared a long and intimate history. The central goal with these case studies is to understand those links between societal change and disease. Topics include the origins of epidemics; how warfare, commerce, and imperialism have shaped disease and vice versa; and how race, class, religion, and political context have informed the ways societies have dealt with (or not dealt with) disease. Students will also use the materials in this course to reflect critically on how they, themselves, explain changes in health over time and across space. 

Race and Racism in Global Context
Grades: 10-12

What is race? What is racism? How and where did the concept of race emerge? How have understandings of what race means changed over time and space? How do the forms and expressions of racism affect people’s lived experiences? After investigating the driving forces, machinery, and consequences of racism in different parts of the modern world, students will study and ultimately advocate for various paths to liberation. Specific topics include the misuse of science (from craniometry to DNA ancestry testing) in racial classification; affirmative action in India and Brazil; efforts to secure reparations for the transatlantic slave trade in the Caribbean and the Indian residential school system in Canada; the colonial legacy of colorism in beauty standards in Asia; and contests over memorialization, from Richmond’s Monument Avenue to #RhodesMustFall in South Africa.